Tanzanite Is Africa’s Real Blue Diamond

Tanzanite is found in only one place on Earth: Tanzania. Although it’s not as expensive as a diamond, this blue zoisite is much rarer. In fact, some estimates have tanzanite at 1,000 times rarer than diamonds.

It may be hundreds of millions of years old, but the rare gem was first brought to the attention of humans in 1967, according to the website for Cape Town-New York jeweler Shimansky.

The story goes that tanzanite was first discovered either by a Masai tribesman (the Masai are an ethnic group living in northern, central and southern Kenya and northern Tanzania) who first noticed the bright blue crystals and contacted Manuel de Souza, an Indian tailor and prospector, or else de Souza himself discovered it.

Either way, with hope that the colorful deposit was sapphire, de Souza made a mining claim to the area. Although zoisite, the species of which tanzanite is a variety, was already known, it was typically translucent, opaque, green and used for carving jewelry, according to Harwick. Tanzanite’s brilliant color was an exciting find.

Harry Platt, the erstwhile chairman of Tiffany & Co., played a pivotal role in unveiling this blue marvel to the world. Platt spotted it while visiting a lapidary in Europe and not only gained the rights to sell the stone, but also got to name it, which he did in honor of its native land. More than five decades later, the Mount Kilimanjaro source near Arusha, Tanzania, is still the only place in the world to source the gem.

Tanzanite mines can only be found in one place on Earth: Tanzania. This mine shaft is 3,280 feet (999.7 meters) deep and accessible only via a wooden ladder.

Patrick AVENTURIER/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

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